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Nikolaos Papanikolaou wins Cutino Award as the best collegiate water polo player
After leading Cal to an NCAA title last December, "Papa" becomes only the 4th Cal Bear to win Water Polo's "Heisman"
After leading Cal to the program’s 15th NCAA championship last December (the WFC recap includes an embedded YouTube replay of the entire championship match win over USC), Nikolaos Papanikolaou, AKA “Papa” to his friends, teammates, and grateful sportswriters, was named the male Peter J. Cutino Award winner last Saturday. This award, given out by the Olympic Club in San Francisco and named after the long-time Cal Men’s Water Polo coaching legend, is the collegiate water polo’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy.
In addition to winning his first national championship with Cal, Papa also led the highly competitive MPSF conference with 68 goals and 35 steals. The junior Cal All-American center had been a beast in that offensive spot right in front of the opponents’ net. In just 26 matches of the 2021 season, he drew an incredible 112 exclusions, which turned into power-play opportunities for Cal as well as disqualified an opposing player after picking up three in a match.
In the 23-year history of the award, Papanikolaou became only the 4th Cal Bear to take home this trophy. Papa joined a pretty exclusive list that includes John Mann (2006), Ivan Rackov (2010), and Luca Cupido (2017). Both Mann and Cupido had also represented United State at the Olympic Games.
Papa had already headed back to his native Greece but accepted the award with a pre-recorded message.
Papa was also a finalist for the award in 2020 after his sophomore season back in 2019. Due to the extra year of eligibility given to every student-athlete, Papa can still compete for two more NCAA national championships with Cal. He has a very good chance of both winning another title and another Cutino award before his collegiate water polo career is over.
By the way, Cal will host the 2022 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championships this December. The last time Cal had that honor, they won that 2017 NCAA Championship.
Congratulations to Papa on this honor! Opa!